Free weekend? Explore secret Camberwell

Photographer and SE5 resident Tom Leighton shares his guide to “secret” Camberwell with us – the best but not best-known places locally to shop, eat, drink, listen or just hang around

36 reasons to love camberwell

It’s no secret that I quite love Camberwell. In fact, I’ve become a bit evangelical about it. I’ve only been here since 2007 but I can’t imagine ever living anywhere else (with the possible exception of Glasgow).

There’s a bit of a buzz about Camberwell this year, too. It all started with the revival of the area’s music hall heritage thanks to the amazing Palace of Varieties [more of which in an upcoming post], it continued with the Food Festival on Camberwell Green, and will carry on with the 19th Camberwell Arts Festival in June (yours truly is doing a new exhibition too! More details here soon…). Talking of Camberwell Green, it is a getting a new library and a makeover, as are the streets and little pockets that have been long neglected. And about time too I hear Camberwellians cry.

However, even some die-hard locals look blankly at me when I mention some of my favourite places. So here, just to clear things up, are five secret little local spots. There are many more excellent places around, some of which I photographed for the 36 Reasons exhibition. But these are the ones I thought would like a little wave hello.

36secretgarden1. The Secret Garden

Right now is the best time to visit the garden – the community-tended green space on the the D’eynsford Estate, central Camberwell. The flowers are out and blooming, but the weeds haven’t taken over yet. Most people standing at the front gate don’t realise that the garden goes round the back of all the houses. “I didn’t realise it was so big!” (stop sniggering at the back) is a common refrain from new visitors as they walk through the bamboo curtain. That’s why it’s called the Secret Garden! Anyhow. It’s open on Friday afternoons from 3ish to 5ish. It does open at other times if neighbours are in there watering and generally pottering.

Entrance on Kimpton Road, behind the KFC on Camberwell Church Street. Camberwell Secret Garden or follow @deynsford on Twitter to get information about events and opening times.

36reasons-Africa2. United Superstore (aka Africa!)

love this shop, and I love the staff that work there. From the outside it looks like your typical mobile phone shop-cum-fruit-and-veg-shop-cum-generic slightly foreign looking place, that seem to abound in London. However, get yourselves down there and marvel at the fact that they seem to have more stuff in there than Morrisons and Waitrose put together. It’s a blooming Tardis. Why is it called Africa? Because it sells a lot of African produce too. Are the owners African? Nope. They’re from Pakistan, but know a good gap in the market when they see one! Oh and it’s way cheaper than Morissions too. No. Really.

14 Camberwell Church Street.

maloko logo 3. Maloko

Maloko is the new kid on the block and wasn’t in my original 36 Reasons project, simply because it wasn’t around then. If it had been, it would have been reason 37 to love Camberwell.

Taking over the premises of the much missed Paul’s Olive Shop (sadly Paul died a few years ago), Maloko  is a vegan creperie, with great coffee and the warmest welcome you’ll find below the river, or above it. Evangal and the team are from Cameroon and welcome you like an old friend into their home.

60 Camberwell Church Street @myMaloko

36reasons-wuliwuli4. Wuli Wuli

Wuli Wuli sometimes seems to be forever regarded as the bridesmaid to the bride that is Silk Road, the other (and much reviewed) Chinese Restaurant on Church Street. I’m not saying Silk Road is bad, quite the opposite. However, pity Wuli Wuli, which deserves to be just as busy. To have one Chinese restaurant that serves original regional food in Camberwell would be great. But we have two? We are truly blessed. When you go to Wuli Wuli flip to the back half of the menu. That’s where the gems are to be found. My favourites? Fried beans with pork, and saliva chicken. “Saliva chicken?” I asked the first time I saw it. Yes, so tasty it makes you salivate. Oh yes it does. And what does Wuli Wuli mean in English? Well it’s the noise the (many) sirens make as they go down Camberwell Church Street!

15 Camberwell Church St. Tel: 020 7708 5024

Nick the Vicar and company at St Giles Church (minus jazz)
Nick the Vicar and company at St Giles Church (minus jazz)

5. Jazz at the Crypt

A few years ago, most Friday evenings would see me and those in the know nipping off to church (and what an amazing church it is by the way). Not in your standard religious way, but to worship the god of jazz. Then all of a sudden, Jazz in the Crypt stopped. We were all rather crestfallen and saddened. Never fear though. So the rumour goes, all the problems with licensing have been sorted out and the new electrical plugs and smell of fresh paint can only mean one thing: jazz is coming back to Camberwell! It’s going to be a good year.

St. Giles Church, Camberwell Church Street.

Words and photos: Tom Leighton @photosbytomtom

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